Penske crew suspensions reduced

CONCORD, N.C. — Penske Racing won a partial victory Tuesday in its final appeal to have penalties against the Sprint Cup teams of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano overturned or reduced.

NASCAR chief appellate officer John Middlebrook upheld all the fines and point penalties, but he reduced the suspensions of seven crew members from six races to two races. The crew members still will be suspended for the May 18 All-Star Race.

A week ago, the National Stock Car Racing panel unanimously upheld NASCAR’s penalties, sending the final decision to Middlebrook.

As a result, the 25-point deductions for Keselowski and Logano in the driver and owner standings stand. So do the $100,000 fines for crew chiefs Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon.

But the suspensions for Wolfe, Gordon, chiefs Jerry Kelley and Raymond Fox, engineers Brian Wilson and Samuel Stanley and competition director Travis Geisler were reduced by four races, which team owner Roger Penske considered a victory.

“Obviously, I wasn’t happy with the outcome a week ago with the three-man panel,” Penske said from NASCAR’s Research & Development Center. “Today, we had the opportunity to sit down across from John Middlebrook and also [NASCAR’s] John Darby.

“John gave us specifics on our penalty, not just sections in the rulebook. We were able to talk about areas we worked in, which obviously were undefined in the rulebook. I’m very happy with the outcome. This sport has been built on innovation. All of us try to innovate in areas that are not defined in the rulebook. We were in that area.”

A week ago with the panel, neither side was in the room when the other presented its case. Penske felt that made a difference in Middlebrook being able to come to what he called a fair resolution.

“Quite honestly, this was the first time that we had the opportunity to listen to John specifically to say these are the areas we think you were over the line on,” Penske said. “Obviously, we had our rebuttal about that.

“The appellate officer had a chance to take into consideration all of the comments we made and NASCAR [made], and came up with a final ruling. To me, it shows both sides probably had some skin in the game.”

Penske said he will announce personnel changes for the teams later in the week, but noted the organization has enough depth to successfully continue.

“I feel our bench is strong and that we have people that can step in for the two crew chiefs and the people who won’t be here,” Penske said. “So to me, it’s going to be business as usual at Darlington.”

The suspensions will begin this weekend at Darlington Raceway and include the May 26 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Those suspended will return for the June 2 race at Dover.

“The key thing is to have our people back at the racetrack operating in full control,” Penske said. “To me, that’s most important.”

Penske argued that the parts were approved and that the organization simply was working in a gray area that other teams were. NASCAR argued that the parts were modified to move before being used, thus making them unapproved.

“It was a good outcome for everyone,” Penske said of Middlebrook’s decision.

It is not the first time Middlebrook has reduced a penalty. Last year, he overturned a six-race suspension for Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus and returned the 25 points taken from five-time champion Jimmie Johnson for what NASCAR deemed an illegal C-post prior to the Daytona 500.

Similar to Tuesday’s ruling, Middlebrook did not rescind the $100,000 fine against Knaus at the time.

Next up for in the appeal process is Joe Gibbs Racing. The National Stock Car Racing panel on Wednesday will hear JGR’s initial appeal of penalties against Matt Kenseth’s team stemming from a failed engine inspection following his win at Kansas.

NASCAR discovered one of eight connecting rods in the engine was 2.7 grams too light during a secondary inspection at the R&D Center in Concord after the April 21 race.

That resulted in a 50-point penalty for Kenseth and team owner Joe Gibbs along with a $200,000 fine and six-week suspension for crew chief Jason Ratcliff. Kenseth also lost bonus points that would have been used for seeding in the Chase and credit for the win if he needs it as a wild-card entry.

Also, Joe Gibbs had his owner’s license suspended for six races, meaning he won’t earn car owner points during that time.

Kenseth called the penalties for what engine supplier Toyota Racing Development called a mistake by a vendor “grossly unfair” and “borderline shameful.”

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